The Keys to Cultural Practice

This post is inspired by Cat Yronwode‘s interview over at New World Witchery podcast, episode 14.  Followed by personal epiphany.

She spoke of how she firmly believes that anyone wanting to practice hoodoo needs to get involved with the culture it was born from (paraphrased), i.e. go and talk with some black people who have it in the family.  That it isn’t enough to read some books and do what they tell you to do.  If you want to really get into practicing it, you need to understand and *connect* with the culture(s) that birthed it.

Allrighty, stage set, would you like to know my epiphany?

First, I need to explain about ‘keys’.  Or more particularly ‘keys to a tradition’.  This is something I’m familiar with in the context of wicca.  And is also very applicable and probably described similarly in Free Masonry and other hierarchical occult orders.  Essentially, by training with a particular group, you are taught the keys to accessing the group’s egregore (group mind) as well as their accumulated knowledge and trained experience dealing with the non-physical.

Hmmm, to back this up slightly farther.  When a group of people work together over an extended period of time, a group mind, or egregore, form.  This group mind is a gestalt of the people and is therefore made up of them and also something more.  A group that exists over decades or centuries builds up this group mind from everyone who has passed through it but also from everything that group has done together magically.

This accumulates a lot of energy and power.

But access to this energy is limited to those within the group.  The people in the group have keys, ritual methodology, symbols, sigils, invocations, etc. that are specific to the group.  Having the knowledge of these keys and the proper way to use them allows a member to access this group energy.

The engregore also includes (this part is only my opinion, so far as I’m aware) the experiences the group has had while within the group mind.  In other words, if the group has frequently done invocations to Bast, the egregore of the group would have specific connections to Bast that are stronger than other groups and a member, even a relatively new member once they have the keys, would have a closer to relationship to Bast than someone else at the same level of training but in a different group.

So my epiphany was realizing that the cultural involvement or sensitivity that Cat Yronwode was describing, this need for a strong practitioner to really be involved with, understand, connect and resonate with the cultures that birthed Hoodoo was also a description on how someone can get the magical keys to the Hoodoo tradition.

There is no lodge to go and train with.  No book written down (yes, there are spell books and Hoodoo books, but they are not the same as the grimoire passed on from master to student which would also include the verbal instructions that go with it) to steal the keys from.

In my personal and perhaps random opinion, the importance she placed on steeping oneself in the culture is actually one of the keys.  Another way to put it is that the art of  Hoodoo is culturally derived and therefore those pieces of culture are at least some of the keys that allow you to access it.

And if you can’t work with the keys to an egregore, you will never be able to access the full strength of the tradition.

Or your access to that style of magical craft will be hampered compared to someone who can embrace more of the direct keys.

Now personally I also see Hoodoo, from her description, as having been born from repeated meldings of different cultures, and each meeting place birthed new evolutions of spells and methodologies.  I believe that as a living tradition, as it encounters other magical practices and other new cultures it will continue to evolve.  So even if you are not comfortable in say working with Jesus Christ, you can still work with Hoodoo.  However, you will be cut off from that particular key to the tradition and may want to find or create a different key that will work better for you (though please note, new keys typically take time to build up their strength).

But that starts getting into some serious nitty gritty which I won’t be going into today.  Or possibly ever on the blog.  One never knows.

~The Abysmal Witch

Joy through connection

First off, I just want to say that it strikes me as one of those life is unfair things that I can’t blog while soaking in the bathtub.  And yes, to all the ubergeeks out there, I know that I could build me a little platform and all that, but you must remember that I am clutzy at the most inopportune moments (I know someone who did all his computer time while lounging in the tub, still strikes me as odd).

Secondly, there has been so much going on that I don’t even know where to start.

So I shall start with joy.

My heart was soaked open this past week by generosity of spirit.  Yes, soaked.  Blasted is too rough, eased too slow, ripped too painful.  Soaked, suddenly, unexpectedly, but gently and without damage.

Onyx (and I feel okay using her (or so I assume) name as she posted it on the Pennies site (right-o, Pennies = Pennies in the Well, the podcast I host, just in case you didn’t know)), after listening to my Big-P segment on Episode 14 (which was about the impact podcast listeners can have on the podcasters, that’s it’s greater than is realized, or so my brain recalls it at the moment-I’d add links and double-check my facts but the podbean site is down so I can’t do that atm), voted for me on podcast alley and then convinced her friends to vote for me as well.

She spent time and a bit of friend coin to bump my ratings.  Not that I was looking for that or that it’s something that is inherintly important to me.  How to put this?  I didn’t have a need to be number one on the site and I probably don’t check it more than once per week, but I’m also aware of what it takes to get to that spot and I’m thrilled and flattered to be there.  It was a really beautiful gift and kindness.  And a shock.

Shock that a stranger would do that.

And then I remembered that she’s not truly a stranger because there exists a connection between us.  Relatively undirectional, but such is podcasting life.

This was really the first time that I felt like I was talking to more than a handful of friends, where some of those friends are just newly met and in other countries, yes, but a handful of friends nonetheless.

Last Thursday night as this whole process started, I lay in bed staring at the stars (there are stars painted astronomically correct on my ceiling so it’s not as delusional as it sounds) and feeling my heart open.

I had carried a nervousness, self-doubt, fear around along with my joy in doing Pennies.  I had imagined the listening world for it to be small.

Instead it blossomed open, her generosity of spirit touched me and I was able to let go of my self-doubt and let in trust and belief.  These are two things that are hard for me but that is a set of topics for other days.

I lay there staring at the stars and felt appreciated and that I’d served and served well.  Joy.  I was soaked in joy.

The next day it was off to Pirates and Faeries, a party on the lake with sixty some odd old and new friends who co-create a wonderful magical world.  Pictures are on my facebook site as they involve other people for the most part, though I will hopefully get a few posted here.  But not tonight.

This never never land we created was also filled with joy, with each other, with the magic, with the freedom to experience and laugh and, yes, cry, all of it without reservation.

And it was the people that made it so wonderful.  From my covenmates to complete strangers, everyone was engaged and involved with each other, and where there were  a few tensions those people just glided past each other with nothing more or less than a nod.

There was always a helping hand, a ready smile, a mischievous idea to play out.

And all of it framed by our co-created sacred space.

There is a special joy that comes from the connections we have with other people.  There is a special joy that one person’s actions can have on us, simply because they acted.

“and my love is poured out upon the earth”

I’ve felt this joy before, but not from the podcast and not two such heart fulfilling moments so close together.  Thank you to everyone who played a part in both of them.  And it touches me how many people that actually is.

And now I have “joy to the world, all across the world, all the boys and girls, joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea, joy to you and me” stuck in my head.

Joy to you and yours.


~the abysmal witch.

Spirit and Body-Part 2

How do we reconcile the two viewpoints of:

1) I need to learn to accept and love my body as it is


2) I want my body to be healthier, fitter and, let’s face it, thinner than it is now?

I believe it can be done.

For any craft that we do, from writing to witchcraft or knitting or biking or whatever hobby or activity you want to insert here, we always have our current state of competence or being and our desired goal of competence or being.

When I did pottery I was ecstatic when I finally made a bowl that was recognizably a bowl.  I was very happy with it.  Just because I was happy with it didn’t mean that I wanted to stop learning and becoming better as a potter.  When I made my first big bowl, it was a huge deal and I was thrilled.  But it didn’t stop me from wanting to do more.

Each level of skill attained made me happy and I was pleased with where I was but I also wanted to improve myself.

The same applies to our bodies.

We can love our bodies for where they are now.  And honestly, dammit we should.  Without them there wouldn’t be flavours, touch, dancing or any incarnate experience.

And while we love them as they are now, we are welcome to seek improvement.

But it is improvement we need to seek!  And where improvement is becoming healthier.

If we recognize and accept that the ultimate goal is to be healthy *and none of the other measurements matter* then it is very easy to reconcile the two statements.  Because we are simply loving who we are now and working to improve, make healthier, our bodies.

And the best part about this reconciliation?

We can ask our bodies to help us with it.

That’s right.  It is no longer a war with our bodies, a constant battle to transform them into some intellectual (and sadly probably culturally determined) ideal.  It is a union, a partnership towards a shared goal.

Gods, what a wondrous feeling, to work with my body (who utterly adores me, btw, irrespective of how horribly I treat her sometimes) and spirit together to become the healthiest me I can be.

Let me reiterate this point.  When you love your body (who also loves you) and you accept that you can love your body as it is now then TOGETHER you can work towards becoming healthier in the future.

It’s not a constant battle of the mind thinking chocolate is bad and the body craving it or the body wanting to sleep in and you forcing it to go for a walk.

Instead, it is a recognition that the body has its things that it desires that isn’t good for it, but if you accept that and work with the body, it can release most times those desires and work with you on those things that make you both healthier.

This is not a master/slave relationship.  This is a partnership built on love and hopefully eventually trust.

The mind isn’t always right so as part of that partnership it needs to listen to the body.  Sometimes the body really does need that sleep or that chocolate, in order to be healthy (and happy).

Invite your body to work with you on becoming more healthy.  That’s what I’m going to do.

I don’t know yet how this will turn out.  But I do know one thing, I will be a much happier person now that I can go around not hating myself (after all, we are who we are and my body needs all of my love just as it gives me all of its) and still work towards improving myself but where improvement is in my health, not in my looks.

Being healthy is so much better and frankly easier of a goal than being thin.  Now getting healthier may result in some weight loss.  But as soon as the goal becomes weight loss, you run the high risk of re-entering that unhealthy mental zone that pits you against your own body and creates a warfield within yourself (and it ignores all the hidden issues that the body holds for us but that’s a topic for another day).  Yuck.

Health.  Isn’t that a great goal?  Attainable, realistic, in many ways measurable.

If a genie came up and offered you a choice:  “You can be healthy or you can be thin, choose now!”  What would you choose?

~the Abysmal Witch

Using spirit to understand body-Part 1

I would like to pose a series of questions/statements to consider.  I’ll put in my answers to them, but I invite you to think of what your response would be.  It will help when I moved to the second stage.  This post will make the most sense, potentially have the most impact, if you follow me down the rabbit hole.

How would you react if someone said to you:

a) Every person must reach a very high state of spiritual developent.

I would say you’re nuts.  Not everyone is interested and quite frankly capable of reaching the same lofty heights of spiritual development.

b) There is only one type of spiritual road to follow.

It’s not like there’s one type of spiritual development.  It’s a range of experiences that we pretty much all recognize but we don’t all get to the same place and we certainly don’t get there by exactly the same method.

c) You’re a failure if you don’t reach the highest level of spirituality possible.

Uh, no.  Some people will be very happy, very spiritual and very fulfilled (the key point in this one, I think) with having spirituality as a regular part of their day or perhaps their week without it being the most important thing in their life and/or without them having to reach any particular degree, experience certain Mysteries or otherwise reach notable landmarks on the road of spiritual development.  In other words, for me, the person who is blissful in their soul from tending their rose garden does not need to develop any further spiritually.  If s/he does, great!  If not, they have, by having their own experience of a healthy spiritual life, reached a good state for them and I see no need to force or expect them to go farther on it.

d) It’s okay to stop expressing and living what we would consider spiritual values in our quest to become more spiritual.

Uh, hell no.  If you stop behaving in a spiritually enlightened way then I’m sorry, you’re not moving closer to spiritual enlightenment (and when I finally do my post on harm, yes it’s related, you’ll discover just how interesting is the meaning behind this sentence, well in my opinion).

Now, go back and look at the statements again, but instead of spiritual development, read it as weight loss.  Here, I’ll do them again:

a) Every person must reach a very high state of spiritual developent. = Every person must be very physically fit and thin.

Seriously?  Everyone must be very physically fit?  No, not in the history of our race has that been the case.  Physically healthy, well yes that would be good.  But physically fit?

Or how about stripping the physically fit and making it:  every person must be thin.

Think about that statement.  If it isn’t resonating in you with a ‘hell no, that doesn’t make sense, then look again at the spiritual statement.  Do you agree that everyone must reach a high state of spiritual development?  If not, then why must everyone be thin?  Why must a single perceived ideal rule all people?

b) There is only one type of spiritual road to follow. = There is only one body type that is beautiful.

Okay, I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have agreed with the only one body type beautiful statement even before this exercise.  Or would I?  Pictures of various body types I’ve seen have been gorgeous.  But when I think of what I consider beautiful, is it a wide range of images?  Or is it a narrow spectrum, constrained by fitness, muscles, curves only in the ‘appropriate’ places?

When I reflect back on the idea of one spiritual road, which I completely reject (though there is the syncretist view that they are all the same that I can work with, but here I’m talking about the specifics of different roads – though if you take the syncretist path, then all body types are beautiful so it still all works together), and then switch my thinking straight over to there’s only one beautiful body type, I reject that too.  There isn’t.  There are many beautiful body types out there.

c) You’re a failure if you don’t reach the highest level of spirituality possible. = You’re a failure if you don’t reach the thinnest, fittest body possible.

Ohhhh, for those of us with body issues, doesn’t that just ring a bell?  Make your whole essence resonate in that nasty, hate yourself because you’re not the body you’re supposed to be kind of way?  Or maybe that’s just me.

I feel this one.  I feel that I’m a failure for not being thinner (though I’m not after super-thin, I’ve adjusted my thinking that much!), and gods help me if I put on a few pounds.  Then it’s not just failure of not being thinner, it’s the active failure of “back-sliding” down the bad road.

If I think about that train of thought and put it in a spiritual context, then sure I’d ben grumpy about backsliding, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  As soon as I realized it I would decide if it really was ‘backsliding’ and if it was, and not somewhere I wanted to go, I would turn around and start going back the way I wanted to go.  No harm, no foul.  And I’d also be looking to see what the cause of this change was and how it fits into my spiritual view.

But all of that presupposes that I’m good with the first two statements.  That there’s no particular spiritual height I need to reach and neither is there one particular way I need to get there.

If there’s no particular state of fitness or weight I need to reach, that there are many different body types that are beautiful – *even for me* (i.e. that my body doesn’t have just one good state of being, that it is happy with a variety of such states) – then why the f*ck do I need to be the thinnest person possible?  Or the fittest?


d) It’s okay to stop expressing and living what we would consider spiritual values in our quest to become more spiritual. = It’s okay to give up the health of our bodies in the quest to become thinner.

This is one that seems particularly obviously no.  Doesn’t it?  After all, we shouldn’t sacrifice our health just to get a few pounds less on a scale.  And yet we do.  There are diet pills that I’m betting aren’t that good for our health, but hey if they get us down that scale, they must be good, right?  And let me just say “eating disorders”.  They are not healthy, but they are a direct outcome of the pathological need to lose weight.

So it’s not so obvious after all.  Or perhaps obvious, but not so easy to work around.

And how do we work around it all?  How does any of this train of thought help change body image or our viewpoints enough that we are no longer plagued by the unhealthy, unreasonable, often unconscious thought patterns?

For me, this comparison of spiritual to body really helped.  It opened my metaphorical eyes to a different way of seeing my viewpoints on my body and I really had that realization or a deep-seated resonate click of sense from comparing the two and how unworkable and downright dangerous my body thought patterns are.

What about you?  Does any of this make you think a little differently?

~the Abysmal Witch